Written by Mark Palmer, from the Mail on Sunday
December 29, 2023 08:27, Updated December 29, 2023 08:27
Alps or Dolomites? As someone who has skied the former almost every year of my adult life, it feels almost disingenuous to side with the latter.
No, there aren’t that many ski-in, ski-out hotel options or host-hosted chalets. Natural snow cover can also be a problem. But what it lacks in the Dolomites it makes up for with its charm, friendliness and spectacular mountain views.
And frankly, you’re in Italy, not France. It is a special region of Italy where most people speak Italian, German and Ladin. Also, with twice-weekly flights from Stansted to Bolzano, you can now take a direct flight to the Val Gardena area, rather than Innsbruck, which is about two hours away.
Additionally, snowmaking is more extensive here than anywhere else in the world. There was very little snow on my last visit, but the slopes were still open.
We are staying in the village of Ortisei. It is very close to the famous Sella Ronda, which is probably the biggest ski circuit in Europe.
Twelve valleys are connected, and if you can stomach the great restaurants along the way, you can ski in one day by following the signs to Sella Ronda.
Before tourism gained attention, Ortisei’s prosperity was mainly due to its woodworking industry. Near the village, you’ll pass shops selling life-size statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the entire heavenly legion of saints. Locals will tell you that there isn’t a Catholic church in the world that doesn’t have something made in this beautiful little town.
Strolling through the pedestrianized area feels like a reminder of halcyon days. This is not the realm of young people on tour.
When you base yourself at Gardena Grodnerhof, you will find yourself surrounded by a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The hotel opened in his 1923 year and has been run by the same family ever since. That shows.
Some even help you put on your ski boots in the morning and take them off again in the evening. Perfect.
The hotel provides shuttles to the various elevators that connect to Sella Ronda. Black run fiends may be disappointed, but those who love wide, open, perfectly groomed slopes can’t ask for much more.
Here you can ski closer to gigantic rock walls than anywhere else in the Alps, and when the sun sets over these jagged peaks they glow a delicious pink.
One evening we had dinner at a restaurant called Friedrich August Refuge on the mountain. The interior is wood-paneled and the lights of Canazei twinkle in the distance. The tomahawk steak is huge, but extremely tender, and the local wine is excellent.
Now, it would take a lot of convincing for me to go on a ski trip to a private resort. I felt this strongly as I stood outside the small chapel of St. Anthony (built in 1673). The door opened just wide to reveal an altar with flickering candles and a beautiful painting above it.
Then I could see the snow-covered Dolomites looming on the horizon in the evening light. And they also look absolutely divine.